Art – Review – Leeds Grand Theatre
By Ginger Bailey, April 2018
The streets outside The Grand are wet and the threat of rain looms as I wait to enter and watch what will be a sell out first night of Art, written in the nineties by Yasmina Reza and translated into English by her long term collaborator, Christopher Hampton. This tour, starring the well-known Nigel Havers (Chariots of Fire, Downton Abbey), Denis Lawson (Bleak House, New Tricks) and Stephen Tompkinson (Brassed Off, DCI Banks), kicked off a couple of months ago.
Safely inside, whilst waiting by the bar for my plus one to buy a packet of jelly babies (tut tut, audience members eating during a performance) I hear the barperson say to a shocked customer: “No interval, I’m afraid” after being asked to pre-order drinks. That must impact on the bar sales eh, but surely worth it if the play grabs and keeps our attention for 90 minutes.
Perhaps the barperson should have offered the theatre goer a double gin and tonic before he went in. Art is a comedy after all. No harm in loosening up the audience. But then again, no toilet break for 90 minutes? Better not encourage the audience to drink too much pre-show – and very annoying when people get up to leave during a performance, for the audience and the actors. Eating jelly bellies is fine though.
Art is a snap shot of the friendship of three long-term and unlikely pals. Serge (Nigel Havers), on what appears to be an impulsive act, has bought a white modern art piece – a large canvas that looks like it’s been copied from the artex walls of the eighties– for the princely sum of £200k. His friend, Marc (Denis Lawson), horrified at the piece and the price, criticises him to the eager-for-an-easy-life Yvan (Stephen Tompkinson), in what appears to be an effort for Yvan to side with Marc in this matter. The true motivation for each character materialises as the play progresses and we watch as the characters’ masks slip.
All three actors give confident performances, as expected. The characters have their faults and all appear self-centred and self-absorbed but, thankfully, due to the skills of the three actors, and perhaps because they are well-known, I warm to them, warts and all. In the end, I want them to kiss and make up.
The highlight of the evening goes to Stephen Tompkinson’s Yvan. Running late and being slagged off by the waiting Marc and Serge, he lumbers onto the stage and launches into a spectacular monologue, bemoaning the pickle he is in regarding wedding invites for his upcoming nuptials. Fantastic to watch, he received a well deserved round of applause. I get the impression that this is a common occurrence for Mr Tompkinson.
The stage is stark white, with oversized skirting and coving, resulting in the actors looking small in the setting. Three chairs, all from different eras, remain stationary on stage. Each one perhaps reflecting the different personalities of the three characters: a comfy chair (Yvan), an elegant “Barcelona” sixties-style chair (Serge) and a upright four-legged chair reminiscent of the regency period (Marc). Or at least that’s what I think. My knowledge of antiques is limited to what I see being looked over and bought on Bargain Hunt.
The play is skilful in keeping me guessing as to how it will end – and I was not disappointed. I do not wish to spoil it for you but I will say the audience do invest in the make believe of the art work, otherwise the ending would not work. What price is art worth? And what price, indeed, is friendship worth?
“I’d come to the theatre more if it finished by 9” my plus one whispers to me as we patiently wait to leave. The Grand’s loss in bar revenue is our early to bed gain. And I’m sure the actors appreciate the early night finish too. Catch Art while you can.
images: Matt Crockett